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The Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, with the Legend of the Icon

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The Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God, with the Legend of the Icon in 16 border scenes

End of the 19th century. Icon-painting villages of the Vladimir region.

Size: 36 х 31 х 2.5 cm

Wood (three panels), two incut support boards (now lost), absence of an incut centerpiece, underlying layer of canvas not visible, gesso, tempera, gold.

The author’s paintwork is in a very good condition. Slight chafing and in places – punctuated restoration tonings.

The reverse of the panel bears an ink inscription in nine lines: Въ благословенiе Досточтимой Игуме– / нiи, СерафимоПонетаевскаго Монастыря, / Нектарiѣ; въ знаменательный день воз– / веденiя Ея въ санъ Игуменiи, 9 января, / 1894 года, бывшаго въ Крестовой, Свя– / тителя Митрофана, Воронежкаго / Чудотворца, церкви, что при Ниже– / городскомъ Архiересйкомъ домѣ. / Недостойный Архимандритъ Феодосiй. 

«In Blessing to the Reverend Abbess Nectaria of St. Seraphim Ponetaevskii Monastery; given on the memorable day of her ascension to the rank of Abbess on January 9th, 1894 in the Holy Cross/Saint Mitrophanes of Voronezh Church near the Nizhny Novgorod Archbishop’s Residence. The unworthy Archimandrite Theodosius.”

Diagram of the border scenes:

7. The border scenes
  1. Saint Theodore Stratilates brings the Icon to Kostroma;
  2. The Appearance of the Icon on a tree to Prince Vasiliy Kvashnya of Kostroma during his hunting trip;
  3. Prince Vasiliy tries to take the Icon, yet it remains untouched;
  4. The Prince’s prayer before the Icon;
  5. A Sacred Procession comes from Kostroma to the tree;
  6. The Icon is brought to Kostroma;
  7. The Icon is placed in Church of Saint Theodore Stratilates;
  8. Prayer before the Icon in the church and miraculous healings of the faithful;
  1. The inhabitants of Gorodets recognize the Icon as one of their own;
  2. The First Fire in the Church – the Icon remains unharmed by the flames;
  3. Prince Vasiliy builds a new Church for the Icon and decorates it with a precious oklad cover;
  4. The Prince prays before the Icon, asking the Mother of God to protect his city from the Tatars;
  5. The Icon is brought to the battlefield – the Tatars are blinded by the Divine Light issuing from the Icon;
  6. The Second Fire in the Church. The Icon is miraculously taken up into the sky and is saved from the flames;
  7. Prince Ivan and the people of Kostroma pray before the Icon so that it never leaves their city without aid and protection;
  8. Prince Ivan builds the stone Dormition Cathedral with the side-chapel of Saint Theodore Stratilates to house the Icon.

The given antique Russian icon belongs to the Byzantine iconographic type known as “Eleusa” (“The Merciful”), which depicts the Holy Virgin leaning towards Christ, who lovingly yearns to His Mother – cheek to cheek, and hugging Her neck. But unlike other “Eleusa” religious icon paintings, this particular type has Christ’s left foot shown naked up to the knee – as a sign of His future Passions and Suffering on the Cross. This composition is taken from a venerated medieval Marian image, known as the Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God (its Feasts are celebrated on March 14th, August 15th and 16th by the Julian calendar). According to the legend, this religious icon of Christ and the Mother of God was painted by St. Luke himself. In the 12th century, it was given as a gift by Prince Andrei Bogolubsky to the people of Gorodets, from which it disappeared after the Tatar (Mongol) conquest.  The antique icon then made its miraculous appearance in Kostroma, with people bearing witness to the fact that it was brought by a certain warrior, who closely resembled Saint Theodore Stratilates. This legend naturally gave the hand-painted icon its current name (Feodorovskaya).

The saint icon appeared on August 16th, 1239 during Prince Vasiliy’s hunting trip when he saw it standing on a pine tree. After being retrieved through fervent prayer, the holy icon of Christ and the Mother of God was brought to Kostroma, to the Church of St. Theodore Stratilates. In 1260, it saved Prince Vasiliy and his army from the Tatars in the Battle of the Holy Lake.

The hand-painted icon of Christ and the Mother of God became increasingly venerated in the 17th century since it was before this particular image that the Russian people prayed and implored Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov to accept the throne in 1613. Since that time, the wonder-working Marian image became the official patronal Orthodox icon of the Romanov Dynasty and became venerated throughout Russia. From the middle of the 17th century, the official Legend of the Icon was written down, and religious icon paintings bearing the legend’s narrative made their appearance.

The given piece of famous religious icons finds its closest analogy in a similar antique icon painted in the first half of the 19th century and now kept in the State History of Religion Museum in St. Petersburg. Not only is the composition of the centerpiece and border scenes identical, but also the centerpiece’s frame – with the depictions of the Cherubim and the Seraphim, as well as the Symbols of the Evangelists, brought out in the ornamented angles.

The detailed execution of the many-figured composition, the traditionalist manner of religious icon painting, the rather dry treatment of the vestments with their lavish gold hatching, the subtle color scheme – all these traits allow us to consider this Feodorovskaya icon of Christ and the Mother of God to be the work of Vladimir provincial iconographers of the late 19th century.

From the inscription on the reverse, we know that this particular antique Russian icon was given as a gift to the Reverend Nectaria on the day when she became Abbess of St. Seraphim Ponetaevskii Monastery (on January 9th, 1894). Necaria was the successor to the first Abbess – Mother Eupraxenia, who founded the monastery in 1869 in the village of Ponetaevka in the Nizhny Novgorod region. This monastery was well known for its arts and crafts. It produced numerous monastery icons on wood and canvas, as well as miniature-on-enamel works of art. In 1885, a miracle appeared from one of the “Mother of God of the Sign” holy icons painted by one of the sister-nuns. Since that time, this particular religious icon was known as the Seraphimo-Ponetaevskaya Icon of the Mother of God.

This saint icon was given to Abbess Nectaria by the Archimandrite Theodosius (Sobolev), who at that time was the Father-confessor to the monks of the Totems Holy Savior Sumorin Monastery. In 1918, Archimandrite Theodosius was brutally murdered in the Arkhangelsk region; and in 2003, he was canonized as a new martyr for Christ.

The given antique Russian icon has the highest value both, as a historical and museum piece, and is undoubtedly of great interest to private and state religious icon art collections.

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